Breaking the big taboos – from periods to fertility
25th November 2018
This week I was on a panel at the GIANT health event with three other inspiring female entrepreneurs:
Billie Quinlan, Co-Founder of Leika – a personal coach to improve women’s sexual wellbeing
Valentina Milanova – Founder of Dayes – the first pain relieving tampon
Shardi Nahavandi, Founder of Sura – making contraceptive prescribing personal
Here I blog on my main takeaways: that there’s lot’s more to do, we need to treat physical and mental health equally and we need diversity of thought.
Lot’s more to do
Women’s health – from periods to fertility – remains taboo. There has of course been progress over recent years – but the many examples I could list here, for me, show that not enough progress has been made.
Why is it a social norm for women to only announce their pregnancy after the first trimester – the trimester that is likely to be the most difficult physically and emotionally and when loss is most likely? This normalises the silence around fertility and pregnancy complications and ignores the emotional health implications.
Why is that women feel the need to conceal their sanitary products en route to the bathroom in the work place? Why should women feel embarrassed about telling their boss about crippling period pain?
The lack of open conversations about women’s health has certainly contributed to poor outcomes for women. Endometriosis UK finds that on average it takes 7.5 years to get a formal diagnosis of endometriosis. Endometriosis is a condition that can cause crippling period pains, and with recent research finding that period pains can be as painful as a heart attack, it is clear that female pain is not taken seriously. Endometriosis and infertility are also associated, but the cause has not been fully established. A reflection on the fact that we still have a lot to learn about women’s health.
Women are still expected to endure three miscarriages before speaking to a specialist, and there is a lack of emotional support – despite the fact that research finds that 4 in 10 women experience PTSD symptoms following miscarriage – which can in turn have an impact on trying to conceive after miscarriage. Contraception is still prescribed on a trial and error basis despite the many side effects women report. The list could go on.
Treating physical and mental health equally
And in all of this, the emotional health implications are clear. We need to treat physical and mental health equally and at the same time. Earlier in the day we heard how the Founder of Moody Month was inspired to take action after high levels of stress impacted on her period and health. Women are much more likely to experience poor mental health. One in five women experience a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) compared to one in eight men. And reproductive and emotional health are strongly linked, 50% of women coping with infertility found it the most upsetting experience of their lives.
Diversity of thought
We spoke about the challenges of pitching to investors who are mostly male. Valentina had faced questions such as whether periods were really well suited to a monthly subscription business… and Billie had to break down perceptions that solutions for women’s sexual wellbeing is a ‘niche’ market.
What’s clear, is that we need diversity of thought across the whole industry. This means having diverse entrepreneurs, investors and businesses – only then will we develop services that are really grounded in what people need – that’s a world that I’m excited for.